Citizens for Easton responds to Saddle Ridge appeal

A short trek into the woods on the shores of the Aspetuck Reservoir off Route 58 in Easton led to a striking scene of natural beauty. Photo by Chris Burns

Verne Gay, president of  Citizens for Easton, responded to petitions to the appellate court by Saddle Ridge Development LLC, et al, to hear their case on appeal to build Saddle Ridge Village, a 99-unit townhouse development with affordable housing units.

On Feb. 22 the developer filed two Petitions for Certification — one each for the P&Z case and wetlands case — requesting that the appellate court hear the case on appeal.

The developers had sued to overturn Easton’s land use commissions denials of the dense housing development, which was to be located in watershed land that drains into the Aspetuck and Easton reservoirs and provides drinking water to more than 400,000 Fairfield County residents.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger on Jan. 25 dismissed the affordable housing and inland wetlands appeals by Saddle Ridge Developers LLC, et al, following a multi-year dispute. The decision capped years of dissension over the proposal to build the development on a 124.7-acre site on watershed land bordering Cedar Hill, Silver Hill, Sport Hill, and Westport roads.

Berger cited protection of the watershed as the paramount concern in his decision to dismiss Saddle Ridge’s appeals. The Coalition to Save Easton, a sub-group of Citizens for Easton, was the environmental intervener in the case.

“High-density housing on the watershed is a bad idea,” Gay said. “It’s bad public policy. It’s bad for public health, and it’s a terrible precedent.”

The reservoirs are part of an interconnected system of reservoirs that serve Stratford, Bridgeport, Trumbull, Shelton, Monroe, Fairfield and Westport. During the summer months, they are also used to supplement water demands in New Canaan, Wilton, Ridgefield, Stamford and Greenwich.

“Water is a precious natural resource, and hardly an inexhaustible public resource, and a resource that must be safeguarded, as the good people of Flint, Mich. now realize,” Gay said.

“This is what animated Citizens for Easton from the very beginning, and continues to animate us and our members, a belief that this is our town, and this is a resource we all depend upon, and it is our right — and frankly our duty — to reject efforts that seek to undermine both.

“Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger produced a deeply thoughtful and tightly reasoned opinion on this issue, which we stand by, and which — I would submit — most people in Easton and people in surrounding towns who also depend on this watershed support.”

Huntley “Bucky” Stone, who owns Saddle Ridge Development LLC and Silver Sports LP along with partner Robert Carlson, said at the time of Berger’s decision that he would continue his fight to win his case.

“We recognize that this process is a marathon, not a sprint,” Stone told the Courier a day after learning the court’s decision. “We’re nowhere near ‘hitting the wall.’”

Appeals in land use cases are not automatic. The Appellate Court has to decide to hear it, according to attorney Ira Bloom of Berchem, Moses & Devlin of Westport. Bloom represented the Easton Planning and Zoning and Conservation commissions.

The commissions have 10 days to file memos opposing Saddle Ridge’s requests, and that is what Bloom is working on. After that, the Appellate Court will make a decision to accept the cases or not.  That decision usually takes a few months, Bloom said.

Gay said Citizens for Easton and the Coalition to Save Easton welcome the challenge.

“It’s important that Judge Berger’s ruling be upheld, and important that this precedent be set,” he said. “I believe representatives for Saddle Ridge, in filing the appeal, also suggested that this battle is a ‘marathon,’ and that they have no intention of stopping. Citizens for Easton doesn’t either. But even marathons come to an end, and we look forward to seeing this through to the finish line, too.”

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